The contribution of physician associates or assistants to the emergency department: a systematic scoping review

Nicole King, Munaf Mansoor Habeeb, Suzannah Helps

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Background: New health care professionals, such as the physician associate or assistant (PA), have expanded the ability of health systems to meet the needs of the population in both primary and secondary health care settings. Although PAs are widely deployed in the emergency department (ED), their role in the ED has not previously been formally described. This systematic scoping review synthesizes and critically analyzes existing literature on the impact and perception of the role of PAs working in the ED.

Methods: We performed a systematic scoping review. We searched Medline, PubMed, Scopus, PsycINFO, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Excerpta Medica Database (EMBASE) and EMCare for English language peer-reviewed studies describing PA roles in the ED. Both qualitative and quantitative studies were included. We assessed the quality of the articles using QualSyst and the mixed methods appraisal tool. Themes regarding PA roles in the ED were identified.

Results: We included a total of 31 studies. Themes identified in the review included perceptions of the PA, wait times, acuity of patients seen, length of stay, those leaving without being seen (LWBS), clinical outcomes, pre-admission rates, well-being and scope of practice. Both the doctors' and patients' perception of PAs in the ED were generally high. The hindrance of them not being able to prescribe was evident. Studies showed a reduction in waiting times, length of stay, readmission rates, and those leaving without being seen when PAs work in the ED seeing moderate- to low-acuity patients. Evidence shows that PAs have a positive impact and the perceptions of the PAs are high in international EDs. There is significant evidence of PAs being key members of the health care team. Their work is particularly helpful for low- to moderate-acuity patients. With the increase in health care demand and a suffering UK National Health Service (NHS), the evidence synthesized in this review supports the potential positive impact PAs can have on the NHS and more specifically, the improvements of ED throughput metrics.

Conclusions: This review identified the roles and positive influence of PAs in the ED. These findings highlight current and future challenges for PAs in the ED.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12989
Number of pages11
JournalJACEP Open
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2023


  • emergency department
  • physician assistant
  • physician associate
  • systematic scoping review

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